Jim Davis/Globe Staff
Stats are for losers, as Bill Belichick has taught us, so keep that in mind this weekend amid the latest renewal of the Border War. Randy Moss should not be judged by the numbers. To conquer the Meadowlands, the Patriots might be willing to sacrifice Revis Island.
As usual, the Pats and Jets are chock full of story lines entering Sunday’s divisional clash in Joy-zee, chief among them the seemingly never-ending duel between all-world Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis and accomplished Patriots receiver Moss. Following last week’s performance against the Cincinnati Bengals, Moss told us that he will not be further distracted by his contract status and admitted, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that much of his off-season was focused on Revis.
Now he has to go out and start proving both, particularly during a season in which every divisional game seems to carry additional importance.
A word of caution: don’t paint Moss by the numbers in this game. Unless you are among those in attendance at the Meadowlands, tracking Moss on every play, you’ll have to rely on those in attendance – in the stands, press box and broadcast booth – to get a fair, accurate portrayal of whether Moss played hard and aided the New England cause. Moss’ greatest contributions in this game might very well come in the space he creates for others, in his ability to take Revis out of the game instead of the other way around.
That means Moss may have to run hard, on every play, even when he knows he’s not getting the ball. It means Moss may have to be a decoy. It means the Patriots may be content to swap their most explosive receiver for the Jets' most valuable defender, unless the Jets alter recent patterns and put Revis on the relentless Wes Welker, whom Jets coach Rex Ryan showered with praise earlier this week.
Either way, Revis will be at the core of almost everything the Pats try to accomplish on offense come Sunday.
Over the past two seasons – one with Matt Cassell at quarterback, one with a rehabilitating Brady – the Pats and Jets have split four games. One of the New York victories came last season in Week 2, a game Welker missed. Nonetheless, Welker’s totals in the remaining three games (29 catches, 372 yards) badly dwarf those of Moss in four contests (14 catches, 106 yards), which should tell you that, on offense, the Patriots generally have controlled the middle of the field while the Jets have controlled the outer thirds. The performance of substitute slot man Julian Edelman in Walker’s place last season (eight catches, 98 yards) further emphasizes that point.
Unless the matchups change, the Pats and Jets will have their clear areas of strength come Sunday, particularly when the Patriots have the ball.
All of this brings us back to Moss, whose true commitment to the team this season may be tested. During a good chunk of Bill Belichick’s tenure in New England, the Patriots have prided themselves on being a "multiple" team on offense and defense, which is to say that the Patriots have adapted to the environment. Nothing demonstrated that more than the Patriots’ impressive run to their third Super Bowl title. In successive weeks, the Patriots shut down the top-ranked offense of Indianapolis, 20-3, and lit up the top-ranked defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers, 41-27. The message was obvious.
You name the game. We’ll beat you at it.
In retrospect, that all began to change in 2007, when the Patriots became a high-flying air show and seemed to adopt an entirely different approach. We’re going to throw and you can’t stop us. Brady chucked a whopping 50 touchdown passes against a mere eight interceptions, and the Patriots burned the NFL record before … well … the stubbornness and arrogance of their newfound approach got in the way.
This year, unlike last, Brady will be entirely healthy and may have an embarrassment of riches from which to draw. Given how little help Moss had in the receiving corps at this time last year, he should welcome a matchup with Revis as much as anyone. Randy may not have to catch much of anything this time. In theory, at least, Brady should be able to pick from a cast that could include Welker, Edelman, Brandon Tate, Aaron Hernandez, and Rob Gronkowski, not to mention Kevin Faulk.
For Moss, whose need to get the ball once was referred to as the Randy Ratio, a game like this could present the ultimate test.
As he approaches the end of his contract, Moss may have to sacrifice numbers for the good of the team.
No matter how much time has spent during the offseason preparing himself to undress Darrelle Revis.
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